“Dear Artsy and Musicy Friends”

My sister is moving to South Africa – in a little over a week. To say I am jealous would be an understatement (though, as she pointed out, after sailing around the Pacific I really haven’t got a leg to stand on). I’m going to miss spontaneous phone conversations at all hours of the day, but I know we’ll keep connected and I know she is going to have an incredible experience.

You might be wondering what on earth would take her to South Africa, I asked her to share a little about what she will be doing because I think that it is something that many of my friends could relate to and may want to think about supporting. In her words…

Hello, friends of my darling big sister!

I am embarking on a really fantastic adventure and Gillian mentioned that she has lots of “artsy and musicy friends” who might be interested in hearing about it. I’m taking off for South Africa at the beginning of August to teach music in a very rural part of the country.

My destination is Hamburg, on the coast of the Eastern Cape.  The Keiskamma Trust has been active in this area for almost ten years, bringing hope to one of the poorest regions of the country by combining health and art to heal both body and spirit.  In addition to running a health clinic to deal with the high incidence of HIV/AIDS (approximately 35%), they manage art projects that help the local Xhosa people express their struggle for reconciliation through photography, embroidery, and pottery.  Some of their major projects have included the Keiskamma Tapestry and the Keiskamma altarpiece.  For the past five years, children in the area have had the opportunity to receive music lessons through the Keiskamma Music Academy, providing them with an opportunity for creativity and development that would otherwise be far beyond their means.

I was originally put in touch with the Keiskamma Trust because they need a recorder teacher (recorder is the main instrument taught at the music academy), and I am one of that rare breed that has a university education in recorder performance.   As I learned more about the organization I was impressed by their holistic approach to health and by the high musical standards of the Academy.  I’m inspired by their core belief that health is more than food and bread but also includes quality of life and opportunities for becoming more than our lot in life would dictate.

I’ve agreed to go over to Hamburg to teach for at least the next six months because I know that music has made a difference in my life and in the lives of my friends.  I believe many of us would agree that our sense of human-ness comes from the ability to express ourselves through our art.  It’s a privilege for me to give the opportunity of musicmaking to others.

A few of my own music-loving friends have asked if the Music Academy needs anything in the way of music or instruments.  The students use plastic Yamaha recorders, which have worked well, but as the music program grows they are running out of instruments and could use several more sopranos and altos.  These instruments seem very inexpensive to us but are completely unaffordable for these students.

I don’t have room in my bag for instruments, but if anyone is interested in sponsoring a recorder please let me know.  It would be easy for me to take money over to South Africa and purchase instruments there.  Please contact Gillian or myself if you’re interested and we can make arrangements.  I promise to send photos of the recorders in action 🙂

Also, I will try my best to send out sporadic indications by email that I am still alive.  If you want to receive these glad tidings of music making on the other side of the world, let me know! (You don’t need to help purchase instruments to get on that mailing list.)

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom of this message from someone you don’t know, and blessings on your own artistic and musical pursuits!




About 18 months ago, I had a Grace in Small Things project underway. I got to 56 days of my planned 365 and then things fell by the wayside. The goal was to acknowledge and recognize five things that were good in my day, and to practice that for a year. It was a big commitment. Since I struggle to get a photo up every week on Friday, I am not sure how I thought I could complete daily postings for a year.

The practice, however, was a good one. It reminds me of a part of the practice of Ignatian Examen: to review the events of the day with gratitude, focusing on the people interacted with, the the gifts of the day, and the blessings of small things: conversations, good food eaten, and things seen. It is a good practice.

As I sit here at the kitchen table with good music playing, a mug of Jasmine tea from my last trip to China, and the remnant of my birthday chocolate, I am reminded of these good things. The small things, the simple things that bring joy in life.

I had a killer [bad] day. It was my fourth day in a row of work (three in optometry, one in counselling) and around hour six, I hit the wall of “I. Can. Go. No. Further.”. With two more hours to go, it was a struggle to make it. After dropping off the bank deposit from work I decided to hop into the local Japanese grocery store next door and pick up some miso soup to have with my veggi stirfry for dinner. I have a weakness for good miso soup and they make a good one. (Speaking of miso soup, this is a hilarious job posting!) When I arrived at the store, all their sushi was discounted 50% off. So I had some gyoza and oysters with my stirfry and miso. What a find!

Other joys in my day? I love some of the girls I work with; they are such a blessing and so much fun. I’m going to miss seeing them a few times a week when I finally get my counselling job. My thesis is finished: all I need is a title and I can submit it. I had a brief, but funny conversation with my sister. I love her. I got a wonderful email from a friend. My tea was perfect and hit the spot and soothed my stomach. I spent some time sewing a belt to wear later this week. Dinner has left me more than satisfied. I have leftover sushi for lunch. The smell of grass and rain.

Spring on the Island

It feels like spring today: the sun is out, it is actually warm-ish, the flowers are still blooming, and I can hear the birds chirp away as I cycle and walk around town. It is such a nice change from the last few weeks – I can actually feel and hear my body give a huge sigh of relief as it gets nicer outside and it doesn’t have to deal with cycling everywhere in the rain.

I had a comical exchange on twitter the other evening. Just before I headed off to bed, the rain that had been intermittent all day picked up and began to pound my exposed third floor window. Not long after I complained about it on twitter, so did one of my friends, saying, “Here comes the rain again…” I responded with a modification of the next line of that classic Eurythmics tune (yes, I just used “classic” and “Eurythmics” in the same sentence) and our exchange continued on that line for a few minutes.

There are a few song lyrics like that, songs which always come to mind in specific situations. Curiously, they are mainly weather related. On my cycle into town this morning, the warm sunshine on my back made me go all John Denver, “Sunshine, on my shoulders makes me happy…” The sight of spring coming into bloom brings me back to car rides on the East Coast with Buddy Wasisname, “Its spring on the island…”, though he is referring to a different island on a different coast.

Whichever Island and whichever coast, I’ll continue to sing throughout my day. Enjoy spring, enjoy music, enjoy life!

40 Days

Wednesdays are a crazy day in my world, especially yesterday Wednesday.

The cycle downtown from work to choir practice freaked me out yesterday. Four drivers who weren’t looking for bicycles nearly hit me. It is only a 7.5km ride, and it isn’t like I’m an obnoxious rider, yet these drivers managed to nearly hit me. Yes, I go quickly, but I obey traffic rules and try to be visible when I ride: I have multiple front and rear lights, wear a turquoise reflective jacket, have white bicycle and orange backpack. It isn’t like I blend into the road. Sadly though, this wasn’t the first time cars haven’t been paying attention to me and I’ve had near-misses before (weekly?). For a city that prides itself on having one of the highest amounts of bicycle commuters per capita in the country, there are a lot of drivers who are not paying attention to us. I guess that is what made the statement of Ash Wednesday even more poignant: Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. We’re all just one event away from that dust.

We got some new choir music in rehearsal last evening. It was new liturgical music for the season of Lent that I’m excited to sing… altos have some wonderful parts and they are all nice and low and minor sounding. One of them, from the Iona Community, asks a simple question: O brother Jesus, where have we left you, Saviour and Lover of all? Where indeed? That line reached out and grabbed me as we sang it.

Lent is probably my favourite season of the church calendar. I like the expectation and anticipation of Advent but often find myself frustrated by the gross commercialism and crazy busy-ness of Christmas that envelops and overwhelms it. Lent on the other hand, often gets overlooked. Aside from pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and the constant question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”, the beginning of this season often goes unnoticed.

Which brings me back to our Lenten liturgical music: O brother Jesus, where have we left you? Am I giving something up for Lent? I am not sure yet. I’ll allow myself until the weekend to decide. On the other hand, I would much rather that I find Jesus during Lent. Find Jesus. Find God’s heart for the lost and poor and marginalized.

In closing, another song for this Sunday (also Iona Community):

Sent by the Lord am I; my hands are ready now to make the earth the place in which the kingdom comes. The angels cannot change a world of hurt and pain into a world of love, of justice and of peace. The task is mine to do, to set it really free. Oh, help me to obey; help me to do your will.

How I Did

Here’s how I did on the tasks to accomplish this weekend:

Looking forward to list:

  • Church – Sunday morning and Evensong.
  • A long walk. 
  • Some quality reading time.
  • The beginning of an illustrious banjo career.
  • Sleep.

Not looking forward to list:

  • Anatomy Lab/Quiz study
  • Reading chemistry.
  • Lots of reading of biomedical ethics.


  • To accomplish all of the looking forward to things and at least one and a half of the not looking forward to things.
  • Loaner banjo hasn’t arrived, therefore no beginnings of my career. I did look up how to play it online.
  • I can always use more sleep. And since I didn’t specify the amount of sleep, I can’t really justify crossing it entirely out. I did sleep at times this weekend though!
  • Don’t have my Chem text yet and I couldn’t be bothered to go up to the university to read the one on reserve. Quiz isn’t until Friday anyway.
  • Could have read a lot more of the Biomedical Ethics than I did, though I got through a chapter. Another chapter will get done on lunch break tomorrow.
Overall Verdict:
  • I didn’t do too badly given that I ended up having dinner with friends on Saturday (when my 3 hour walk and dropping off a birthday card on the way home turned into an extended visit and dinner) and went out for brunch after church on Sunday with half the choir. I’d say it was a successful weekend. Now all I need is a good long sleep before work tomorrow.

7 Things [1]

7 Things from the week, or not. Maybe just 7 things in a randomly connected order that makes sense only to me and my methods of lateral thinking.

  1. I’m going to learn how to play the banjo. A friend is loaning one to me to play around with. Should be fun…!
  2. In a related vein, I’ve counted and there are currently 6 instruments in my possession (or will be once I get banjo): two guitars, ukulele, djembe, didgeridoo and the banjo.
  3. I’m in the midst of trying to figure out what to do with my life. Why can’t think be straightforward?
  4. Anatomy labs are false advertising. They aren’t labs, they are a quiz and another lecture. Its kind of annoying when you then have to go into the lab on your spare time (like today) and work on the lab that you weren’t given time to work on during your lab time.
  5. I’m going to doing nothing productive on the school front this weekend. Except maybe a little bit of studying.
  6. I am really liking my computer that I bought on the way home from Offshore. Its a nice little thing that fits perfectly in my shoulder bag. Its probably my favourite piece of technology at the moment.
  7. I’ve very nearly weaned myself off the iPod. I rarely listen to it when I’m walking to class or around town. I’d rather be open to hearing the sounds of the world around me.

(In response to Conversion Diary)

What I’m Listening To: Christmas/Advent

I left the house today!  I decided to walk down to the local mall to pick up a few things and to get some exercise after not leaving the house at all yesterday.  Before I went, I took the opportunity to update my mp3 player to get some Christmas music on there for the walk.

After all of my griping about Christmas carols and how much I don’t want to hear more cheesy music about shepherds and angels, I began to listen nearly exclusively to Christmas music this week (CBC radio still makes up the other bit of my listening). Since my tastes are so picky, you may rightly ask what on earth am I listening to? Wonder no more, here is what is on shuffle in iTunes at the moment (in no particular order):

  • Jars of Clay‘s Christmas Songs. This is pretty much my sole shout out to a Christian band’s take on Christmas because, at the risk of being repetitive, I often find them a little cheesy. However, I like Jars of Clay’s arrangements of some classic Christmas stuff and they have a couple of my favourites on there like Gabriel’s Message and In the Bleak Midwinter.
  • I’ve been on a Bruce Cockburn kick for the last number of months now, so its not really much of a surprise that I like his Christmas album, simply titled Christmas. He has the Huron Carol on there, in (I’m assuming because I can’t understand a word of it) the original language, plus a number of other carols in other languages. Despite his periodic mumbling sound, it’s Bruce. Enough said.
  • At the mall I foolishly walked into a music store.  There I discovered that Loreena McKennitt has a full length Christmas album out called A Midwinter Night’s Dream. So I got it. I’ve been listening to her Christmas EP, Winter Garden for a few years now, so it is nice to have a longer album. It is her usual with crazy cool instruments and beautiful voice. 
  • A new find, but certain to become a favourite, is Advent Songs by Sojourn, apparently a church in Kentucky. Most are new songs, although there are some new arrangements of classics. I don’t normally go for new Christmas songs either (picky, aren’t I?), but there are a few which have already gone on repeat several times and I’m working on figuring out a couple on guitar. That has to count for something! I know this is one I’ll be listening to for the next couple years and possibly even outside of Christmas time. 
  • I grew up listening to The Roger Whittaker Christmas Album, on LP every Christmas from St. Nick’s in Beaconsfield to Christmas on Bleecker. It is now embedded in my consciousness and no Christmas is complete without it.
  • I have enjoyed Steve Bell‘s music for awhile now, and love his Christmasy album, The Feast of Seasons, especially Ready My Heart, The Angel Gabriel, and Coventry Carol. I say Christmasy because there are some songs that have a Christmas or Advent feel to them and others which don’t, yet fit all the same.  It is Steve doing what he does best
  • Jen kindly pointed out another classic that I believe we also had on LP and listened to without end.  I have indeed been listening to a certain Christmas Album by the wonderful Boney M because again, Christmas would not be complete without it (and I need to have a little crazy 80s music going on at times).

Enjoy.  I have been.

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

Starting to feel a little better this morning – I didn’t get woken up by the phone to cover a shift so I slept in a whole half hour.  Then I sat it bed for an hour and decided that I needed to get on with things.

So Christmas music is now playing, really for the first time.  Maybe thats been my problem, I just needed to get some serious Christmas music going: of the good kind (no sappy carols yet.  Perhaps I’ll play the How the Grinch Stole Christmas…)

And I had leftover homemade pizza for breakfast.  On reflection, maybe my mood is entirely due to the pizza. 

I’m also trying not to look outside as that will almost dampen my spirits.